In the world of climbing Alex Honnold is a legend. Climbing without a partner or a rope, he’s considered one of the best free soloists in the world. Totally alone on the rock face, if Alex falls, he dies. Having climbed some of the top walls in North America and Mexico – he completed the only known free solo climb of the Yosemite Triple Crown (Mount Watkins, The Nose and The Dome), and is also the first to free solo the 2,500ft Central Pillar of El Toro at Potrero Chico in Mexico – Alex Honnold has tackled some of the greatest climbs of all time. We caught up with Alex to find out about free soloing and his favourite routes in North America.
How did you get into free soloing?
“I got into free soloing when I was 19 or so, on really easy routes around my home in Sacramento. I’d grown up reading stories about the generation of climbers before me soloing in California, so I’d always thought it was really cool. I finally started dabbling a little when I dropped out of university. It took.”
Are there character traits that set free soloists apart?
“I don’t think there are any defining characteristics, besides maybe a higher degree of confidence in what you can and can’t do as a climber. I think one of the main things in soloing is being totally honest with yourself about your capabilities and motivations and making sure that you don’t get yourself into trouble.”
Have you ever really scared yourself? How do you process risk?
“I’ve definitely gotten scared climbing, but most of the time it’s with a rope on. I’ve fallen in crevasses while crossing glaciers trying to get to the base of routes. And had avalanches sweep down the wall on either side of routes that we’re climbing. Things like that are pretty scary. But with soloing, the environment is normally much more stable and the climbing is more under my control. For the most part, if it seems scary I just don’t climb it. There’s never any pressure, so if I’m scared or unmotivated I just don’t climb.”
How do you prepare for a climb? Do you climb it with ropes first to understand the holds and the route?
“Generally I climb it beforehand and rehearse the movement and make sure the holds are all solid. Not always, but for the most part. But I’m almost always soloing on established routes, things that other people climb fairly regularly. So there’s generally chalk on the holds and signs of passage. And I’m always soloing well within my capabilities, so I know that I can physically handle whatever I encounter.”
You hold several speed records. How important is speed to you when you climb. Does time play a part or is it just the way you naturally climb?
“I like speed climbing, but it’s sort of like a game that I play on the side. It’s not nearly as important to me as just climbing or soloing a route. But if I do it quickly it’s a nice bonus. And I like keeping track of my time on some routes, just so I can see progress over time.
The Nose up El Capitan is one of the most classic big wall routes in the world. When I was learning how to climb walls eight or nine years ago, a friend and I climbed it in 22 hours, which was a great effort for us at the time. Now I hold the speed record on the route at 2:23. I like keeping track just to know that I am actually improving.”
Can you share your favourite free soloing routes with us in North America?
“So all of my favourite soloing routes are also among my favourite roped routes – the quality of the climbing is the same whether you have protection or not.
Here are some of my favourite routes in North America:
- Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park.
- Nutcracker, Serenity/Sons, and the Regular Route on Half Dome – three classic routes in Yosemite NP.
- Romantic Warrior in the Needles, California. One of the most beautiful looking routes anywhere in the world.
- Bear’s Reach at Lover’s Leap, CA. A route I learned on when I was young and still love revisiting.
- The University Wall in Squamish, BC.
- Solar Slab in Red Rocks, NV. Super easy but super fun, something I always do when I’m out there.”
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Have you climbed any of Alex Honnold’s favourite routes? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Tremayne Carew Pole